All gourmands and carousers know that monthly observances should be based on food and drink. Identity Group Heritage Month? Bah! Disease Awareness Month? There’s always a sword to fall upon somewhere, and Value Wine Chicago politely declines.
All gluttonous and imbibing hedonists prefer to keep tabs on the joyful turns of the calendar. So, when not marking time until Sweetest Day or Yom Kippur have mercifully ended (VWC considers both as “days of atonement,” just in different guises), strike up the homespun band – made up of pots, pans, bottles and glasses – and get to work on the latest combination of food and drink.
Some very sensible folks have designated October as “Chili Month.” So, it’s time to engage in those heated debates between hot, medium and mild – and which wines to serve while the little ones head out, clad in not-so-frightful get-ups to receive frightfully parsimonious (candy companies call them “fun size”) treats.
Typically, the default beverage to pair with chili is beer (no discouraging that beverage choice here), but some wines – particularly not top-of-mind options – can warm to any variation of this Texas-inspired delight.
Before considering any varietals/brands suggested below, one thing to keep in mind is that an austere Cabernet Sauvignon, or a delicate Pinot Noir (both popular varietals) would make “chili heads” cringe. Those already skeptical about wine being brought within close proximity of their chili will be aghast at Cab’s tannins and structure, as these attributes DO NOT play nice with Cayenne pepper, et al. What’s more, the comparably delicate Pinot Noir gets absolutely clobbered. Serve these, and chili mavens will run for the hills – especially the ones not dotted with vineyards.
“For hot foods in general, I prefer to keep the alcohol levels reasonable,” says Dean Schlabowske, the owner of Cellar Rat, a wine shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, and which specializes in wines from smaller producers.
“I find that the 14-16 percent alcohol makes the wine taste harsh and boozy with spicy dishes like chili. I also like to avoid tannic and oaky wines. You need the fruit to shine through.”
One of Schlabowske’s recommendations is the Sansilvestro “Ottome” Barbera Piemonte at $10: “It has classic bright berry fruit, and is clean,” he says, adding that there’s “no oak and [its alcohol] clocks in at a more reasonable 13 percent.”
Another suggestion, from Value Wine Chicago, ticks the alcohol content up another half-percent – just to push it a little:
Feudi di San Marzano Puglia IGT Primitivo: Primitivo is an Italian cousin to Zinfandel, but is more medium-bodied than its often-jammy (but no less delicious) American cousin. Aromas and flavors are of fresh berries – and there’s a notable herb component. It’s this latter characteristic that makes the San Marzano Primitivo a great match with chili that’s seasoned liberally with cumin, oregano and diced onion. $12.